Twas but a couple days ago somebody said, “Hey Jayc, you should go visit San Diego and drink their coffee!” So the next day I got on a plane to San Diego and was in another Not-Portland – this version, however, was essentially a Larger, Generally Balmy, Tropical, and Questionable Portland… Or LGBTQP. Yeah, I just pulled that off and as a result that’s going to be our theme for this review. Pretty damn impressive if I do say so myself. Anyway, the LGBTQP community (San Diego) isn’t really known as a coffee hub in the US – which is fine because they have parks, museums, an Ocean, Mexico, and WAY more hot people than Portland. And even if all that doesn’t do it for you; they have a massive archery range right next to a busy freeway with absolutely no safety mechanisms preventing you from firing arrows into traffic (see Balboa Park). The point is there is a host of delightful of reasons to enjoy the LGBTQP community.
But who cares right? This is a coffee review. Well as it turns out the LGBTQP scene has some pretty sexy places to explore… in the coffee realm I mean. Out of the seven I tried when I was out there, the hands-down best coffee shop was Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. If you’re from San Diego and you disagree then (1) get out of Portland (seriously – don’t bring your high rent, large array of cacti, and traffic problems here) and (2) send me an email and I will pretend to entertain your obnoxious, ill-conceived, and otherwise worthless opinion on which coffee shop is better.
History: I don’t know enough about San Diego or Dark Horse to do a segment on this. I guess Dark Horse Coffee Roasters started up there first shop in 2013 in someplace called “Normal Heights”…where ever the hell that is – I’m assuming some place where the height was deemed to be “normal”. The one I visited was in “North Park” which I’m assuming was named such because it is north of a park… LGBTQP’s poor naming decisions aside, the Normal location apparently didn’t do espresso for a while; resulting in a very strong pour-over game which they clearly maintain from location-to-location.
The Gear: I think when I asked they said they used either a Geisen or Diedrich roaster. I don’t know anything about Geisen roasters and I’m only mildly familiar with Diedrich’s, but whatever they use it seems to be working out great for Dark Horse bean wise. The place I visited also had a La Marzocco Linea (with a nifty little paint job) and a Mazzer SJ. Pretty basic stuff. I told the barista that I thought it was funny because this was the first shop I had visited at that point which worked within the NW coffee shop standard (La Marzocco Linea/Mazzer SJ Combo) – he chuckled politely and then proceeded to ignore me. It reminded me of home, and it was also the first time I really felt accepted into the LGBTQP community.
The Beans: According to the barista (and based on the little bean setup they had just left of the above picture) Dark Horse roasts a fairly impressive array of beans accented by several good quality single origins. I tried their blend (“Super Spro”) and their SO Panama (“Don Pepe”). Both were really nicely roasted. Not too dark, definitely a lot closer to what you would expect to find in PDX shops.
Oh and their bags are awesome. Dark Horse lists out the bean varietal, the altitude of the farm, and the bean processing method. I know that might not sound like a big deal, but to coffee nerds like me it’s probably the single coolest thing you can put on a bag of beans. Despite Portland’s high coffee standards, you will rarely find all this information readily accessible to the average bean buyer. So nerd-props to you Dark Horse.
The Shots: Sexy, long lasting finish, and a mouth feel that you wouldn’t believe – exactly what I had been looking for in LGBTQP scene.
The Spro beans were on par with a lot of what I’ve come to expect from third wave espresso roasting. Light and mildly floral nose, mild chocolate taste notes (usually milk chocolate), sometimes bits of almond cookie or roasted peanut, and a wood like finish (with an almost cedar nose at the end). I got two of these back-to-back just because it was the first really good espresso I had tasted on the trip up until that point. The beans were just delightful and the shots had were perfectly timed and with nice rich crema.
I wasn’t as impressed with the Panama, but I will qualify that by saying the beans may have been a little young and after some rest could have been substantially better. Who knows? It wasn’t a bad shot mind you – lovely citrus notes, kind of a berry like scent (mostly strawberry), a little bit of meyer lemon on the back end. I mean those are all great flavors. I just wasn’t blown away with this almost syrup sweetness I was getting mid-way through the shot(s) because it seemed out of place with all the fruity notes. Don’t get me wrong LGBTQP-folk, it wasn’t a bad fruity! Hell, I love adding some variety to my life now and again. But sometimes when you’re looking for a fruit salad you don’t want to end with a mouthful of syrup – you know what I’m saying?
Seriously though – both shots were exceptional. Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the flavors in the Don Pepe, the sheer quality of the beans and time taken in pulling the shots was enough to make this place one of the best places I went to in San Diego.
Conclusion: Get into the LGBTQP scene and get some tasty stuff in your mouth. Yeah, it’s not Portland, but sometimes trying new things can be a blast… of hot steam used to foam milk.
Dark Horse is flat out delicious. I didn’t want to spend 1000 words writing a travel review, but they were worth a little bit more time just because of how awesome these folks were. A true diamond in the rough given how many other places I tried when I was out there. The shots at Dark Horse were the best LGBTQP had to offer, and that’s saying something. I’d go back and do it again. Portland loves you Dark Horse.